See You Soon, Kara

I wish I could say that Kara and I were the closest and best of bosom friends. In truth, we had a brief friendship – but any acquaintance with Kara felt close, intimate, genuine, and real. I am so thankful for the months God placed her in my life, and every memory I have of Kara is beautiful, joyful, sweet. I’d love to share a handful.

One of the earliest impressions I had of Kara is also one of my favorite memories of her. It was long before her cancer diagnosis, only days – maybe weeks at most – after we initially met. We often sat near the Tippets in church, and this particular Sunday my husband and I sat right behind Kara and her son. During the Lord’s Supper, her son looked up at her and whispered a question – he asked her what was happening, why we were eating a small piece of bread and taking a sip of wine. Kara didn’t shush him. She didn’t say, “I’ll tell you after the service.” She didn’t even take him by the hand and lead him out into the hall where they could “talk freely.” Instead, she wrapped her arm around her son, leaned in, and whispered into his ear. I sat there holding my little piece of bread and my little cup of wine as I listened to her whisper the gospel to her son right then and there, tell of her confidence in the grace of God through Jesus, explain that we were taking this meal to participate in the covenant made in his blood and that by doing this we proclaimed Jesus’ death until his return. That moment had an enormous impact on me – I saw the deep and confident hope in the Savior she loved meet the profound and enormous love she had for her own son in that moment. I long to be that kind of a parent to my own daughter.

Several months later, the west side of Colorado Springs trembled as the Waldo Canyon Fire spilled over the hills and destroyed homes. Many of us found ourselves displaced and traumatized by what looked like an apocalypse scene out of a doomsday movie. After the fire abated and our neighborhoods opened back up, Kara opened up her home to a few of us west side women as a safe place to “debrief” what we had been through. In a home they had barely moved into – where they had not even yet had the chance to hang pictures on the wall – she provided a meal and encouragement, love and comfort. We joyfully watched her kids play as we reminded each other of the goodness and faithfulness of God even in the storm.

Only a few months after Kara’s diagnosis, God called my family to move out of state, and our friendship muted in the way relationships do over long distances. However, we had a wonderful opportunity a few months ago to drive back down to Colorado to go to a wedding. Kara was there with her bright blond hair, big sparkling eyes, and beautiful smile. She held our 7-month-old daughter on her lap through much of the wedding, cuddling her and tenderly loving on her. At the reception she danced with all she had with her husband and kids. Even after all she had been though I remember thinking, “She is so incredibly alive. She is so full of joy for today.” Little did we know she only had months left. Kara will forever be a picture to me of how to live in the abundance of God’s grace for today – to embrace the beautiful, joyful, wonderful, alive, loving moments we have.

Finally, the day Kara shared with me that she had cancer, she said something I will never forget for the rest of all of eternity. It is the one memory of her that has impacted me the deepest. After explaining to us that the lump they found was malignant, with a straight face and steady voice she said, “I get to have cancer for Jesus.” Get to. Not “have to.” Not, “I’m stuck with.” Not, “Well, I guess God has called me to this so I have to do the best I can with this.” No. Even in that moment of fear and uncertainty, with the darkness of anticipation looming out in front of us, she clung to the goodness of God’s calling and his promise for her good and His glory. She was always the first to quickly admit her fear, her sadness, her questioning and even anger. But every word, every action, every day was lived to God’s glory. She did not doubt him, but thanked him – even when she couldn’t understand what he was doing or why.

It is so easy to ask God “why?” How could this possibly be good? Why would he providentially take her through such suffering, take her from her husband and beautiful kids? I don’t know all the reasons, and I definitely don’t want to diminish the awful sadness of suffering and death. But I do know this: Kara’s cancer became an incredible stage for thousands of people to see and hear and know the goodness and glory of God through the gospel of His Son. Because of Kara’s life and death, thousands upon thousands of us grew in our confidence and faith in God.

It is so easy to say, “God took her too soon,” or “her life was cut short.” But please, beloved, let’s not cheapen this. It feels to us like we lost her too early and everything in our mortality wants and craves her presence longer. But this story, the day and moment of Kara’s death, was not a surprise to God. He didn’t lose control in her life and for a moment give victory to the devil in her cancer. No. Every day of Kara’s life – including the last one – were written in God’s book before even a single one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). And we know that the death of the saints is precious in the sight of the LORD (Psalm 116:15). Don’t get me wrong. Death is not a good thing. It is a horrific effect of the fall – our rebellion against God. But through the incredible sacrifice of Jesus – when he took the wrath of God on himself and died in our place, and then rose from the dead and conquered death for us – the sting and victory of death is gone (I Corinthians 15:55).

Eternity feels so far away to us mortals. The veil between heaven and earth seems so thick and impenetrable. But, while I hope by the grace of God to still live a long life, to be here for years and years and years, I know that in the scope of eternity I can say with confidence, “Dear Kara, see you soon.”

Grace for Hard Seasons

Dear Rescued One,

When I read this week’s prompt, my mind immediately jumped to my most recent hard season: the week before Joey’s birth. As I pondered, however, I realized that there were so many other difficult seasons about which I could write. It is so easy to be so near-sighted – to forget the grace of yesterday in light of the grace of today. While I definitely want to revel in today’s grace, I think it is so important to remember the legacy of God’s goodness as well.

It is so easy in our culture to smile and pretend everything’s good. And we tell ourselves this lie so often we actually believe it. The truth is, I’ve had a wonderful life so far. I’m well fed, stylishly clothed, sheltered and warm, blessed with opportunity upon opportunity, well-traveled, educated, and surrounded by the life-giving love of godly family and friends. My husband reminded me once as we sat discussing the theology of suffering, though, that you can’t just assume from outward appearances that a person who “has it all together” doesn’t “know what true suffering is” just because they haven’t spent time starving in a third world country.

Suffering is a reality for every individual person in this fallen, cursed world. Until Jesus returns at the end of the age and consummates his rulership with the New Heavens and New Earth, it will continue to be a reality. What is so amazing about our God, though, is He doesn’t wait until the end of the age to redeem and rescue. Our world’s history of suffering and sin is the perfect canvas on which God displays His grace and love and goodness and beauty.

“Preach the gospel to yourself daily,” is a practice we encourage in our home. Often this is simply reminding ourselves of the “facts” of the gospel – creation, fall, redemption. On a more personal level, though, it is reminding ourselves of the legacy of grace God has weaved into our lives. I’d like to write that down today, to pick a few hard seasons of my life and proclaim the grace of God in their midst.

I had an acute “season of suffering” that started when my childhood was touching the fringe of adolescence. I must have been 12 or 13 years old at the oldest when I found my only baby sister unconscious in the water. I thought she had drowned. I didn’t know she was alive. And I had 10 minutes before I had to catch the school bus.

I had been banging on the bathroom door and yelling at her all morning. It was my turn to shower. Little did I know she didn’t respond because she couldn’t respond. Finally, I barged in to the most difficult thing I had ever seen in my short life. I pulled her out of the tub, screamed for my parents. They came running up the stairs. She was breathing. “Go to school, Meg.” Go to school? How can I go to school after something like that? I went. I don’t think I heard a single thing any of my teachers said that day.

I bottled this up for years. Kept it in. Didn’t think about it. Didn’t talk about it. Years later, God cut open the infected wound and began cleaning it out, showing me His gracious hand.

You see, God created humans with a nose. Quite a beautiful, wonderful, awkward little thing. ½ to 1 inch long, sticking out of the front of your face. Just long enough to stay above the surface of the water. Just tall enough to bring life-giving, life-sustaining air to a body otherwise fully submerged. God’s grace gave my sister her beautiful little nose, and it saved her life.

He timed my barging into that bathroom perfectly. Minutes later might have been too late. But I wasn’t minutes later.

And now, more than 15 years later, my beautiful and talented and quirky and friendly little sister is alive and thriving. I am so thankful for every minute of her life since that day. Every. Minute.

 

Sister Love.

Sister Love.

About this same time, and over the next few years, I was stalked. I won’t go into the details. Suffice it to say that a young man from the church we were a part of took more interest in me than he should have. And on top of that, the only people who believed me were my parents. Everyone else called me a liar and put the blame on me – accusing me of seeking attention or trying to ruin this “godly” man’s reputation for selfish reasons. Again, without going into to many details, I was never actually physically threatened, but I did have very justified reason to fear for my physical safety.

How does a young woman handle this? How do you partake of the Lord’s Supper when this man is taking the same communion two rows over?

Once again, I bottled this up. Until years later I began to see that God drew a line. He never let the situation get out of control, never once allowed this young man to harm me, and used this to drive me to greater dependence on His protection and rescue. He also taught me forgiveness – how to forgive deep offenses and move on and let go instead of hold a grudge and let the hatred and bitterness fester. He taught me to actually mean it when I say, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” He built in my heart a longing for the perfect relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters after Jesus’ return, when all sin will be eradicated.

But even in these circumstances, it was easy to view myself simply as a “victim” – not in any way responsible for the things happening. Fast-forward a few years to a season in my life when I had to be confronted with the fact that I was not “basically good” but “basically sinful.” When I was not just some “good little Christian girl” but a young woman riddled with pride and self-idolatry and the propensity to justify away my “little personality quirks” instead of calling them what they actually were – God-defying self-worshiping sins.

God was gracious in two ways: first, sending a godly professor who pointed out to me Mark 2:17 – “And when Jesus heard it [Pharisees questioning why he ate with tax collectors and sinners], he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

“Are you sick, Megan? Are you a sinner? Because if you are well and righteous, you don’t need Jesus.”

Whoa. I was confronted with the personal application of the gospel.

Then God called me to Africa, and there He opened my eyes to the poison in my soul and began drawing it out and healing me. Painful grace.

IMG_6425

Then a few years ago I stood at my kitchen window and watched the massive flames of the Waldo Canyon Fire spill down the hill toward my home. We escaped and went through a week of the hell of flames and smoke and destruction, to find at the end that our house and things had survived.

“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” – 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

God graciously realigned my priorities and brutally showed me where I was placing trust, what I was using the foundation of Christ to build up. His grace began loosening the grip I had tightened around things and drawing my heart toward compassion for people who needed His gospel.

 

The view from our kitchen window.

The view from our kitchen window.

And then there is the grace He showed me in the events leading up to and immediately following Josephine’s birth. I could write pages. I won’t, because I know this letter is already getting long.

The grace of God is mind-blowing, soul-saving, life-rescuing, sin-destroying, relationship-healing, priority-realigning. The question is not “Why would a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?” The question is “What is God doing for sinful people as He rescues them through the circumstances of bad things?”

I come again and again to the question: Do I need Jesus? Am I sick and sinful? Or have I deluded myself into thinking I’m well and righteous without him? By His grace, God continues to show me my desperate need for His rescue, and assures me that He has rescued me through the incredible sacrifice of His Son.

Remember Paul’s prayer for us in Ephesians, a book full of grace proclamation:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:14-21

To our great and gracious God be glory forever!

Love,

The Graciously Redeemed

 

 

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[Tuesday] Grace for Today

Dear Present Self,

Let the preaching to the choir commence!

You have so many plates spinning right now, you are overwhelmed trying to keep them all going. Please, Meg, give yourself grace to let go and trust that God’s not going to let them all crash and shatter!

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it. Meg, your heart longs for people in your life to have their eyes opened to the gospel. You long for the day they come alive and see Jesus for who He really is. You beg to God that they find His beauty and His grace irresistible. Don’t let yourself get discouraged when it doesn’t happen “fast enough.” Don’t despair when they don’t immediately embrace the clever illustration or eloquent words you put together. People’s souls are not won by these things; they are transformed by the wonderful work of the Spirit. You are called to proclaim. You have done that. Now please, let go and trust that God will work, that His word will not return void. You have received amazing, life-transforming, world-altering, soul-justifying grace. Now it’s time to give grace. You are the delighted-in object of divine love. Now it’s time to let that love overflow to others.

Including yourself. It is so incredibly easy and tempting at this stage in life to construct some mental image of a “super mom” and be devastated when you can’t live up to it. This is crazy! You’re not even trying to keep up with the Joneses… you’re trying to keep up with some arbitrary, imagined ideal that doesn’t exist and shouldn’t! Let go of the chains of your puny fantasy. God chose to give Joey to you for a reason. He chose for you to be Joey’s mom for a reason. No, you will not be perfect. You are a sinful woman living in a fallen world. When those inevitable daily mistakes and sins and selfishnesses happen, repent and move on. Your motherhood is not about you: not about your happiness or glory or impressing others. Your motherhood is about the glory of God: proclaiming His goodness and grace as you love and train up your daughter.

And remember that Joey needs your grace and love just as much as you have needed grace and love. When she cries from hunger at 2 in the morning, don’t moan and roll your eyes. Give her grace. When she spits up all over your third shirt of the day, don’t huff in exasperation. Give her grace. When she throws a tantrum when you’re trying to get her ready for bed because her wet diaper is irritating her, don’t begrudge her. Give her grace (and change that diaper!). When she smiles and coos at you and your heart swells with pride and melts with affection, give her the grace of your delight! When her big blue eyes quietly watch you with furrowed brow, wonder at the grace God has given her to observe and learn so attentively. Live grace in your home. Proclaim grace in your home. This is enough. More than that, this is everything.

And this is true in your marriage too! Three years of marriage, three years of bliss. It’s easy at this point to “settle in” to the humdrum married life. Remember the grace of the honeymoon period and live in that grace! When your husband is hungry after a long day of work, don’t whine about being tired and wanting to just sit down. Give him grace! When your husband is excited about a plan you don’t care for, don’t give in to the temptation to be passive-aggressive. Give him grace! Love and respect him well; pay attention to the details; delight him and delight in him. And on your bad days – your sickness, your sinfulness, your stumbles – receive his grace. He loves you well. Give glory to God for bringing you such a man!

And finally, as the sanctifying Holy Spirit continues to plumb the depths of your soul, dredge up the muck, and filter it away, turn again and again to the grace of the cross. The blood of the Lamb of God covers it all. Don’t wallow in it. Don’t grasp it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Let it all go; let the Spirit draw you to repentance; and revel in the freeing, spirit-lifting, breath-taking grace of God.

You know all of this. Remind yourself. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. Delight in the love and grace of your Maker and Savior. And let it bubble up and overflow out of you into everyone around you. And then let go of it and move on, trusting the One who gave it to you in the first place.

Love,
Your Grace-Filled Now

3months

 

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Dear Friend, there is grace!

I dropped the ball the past couple of weeks for Tuesday Grace Letters. Please forgive me; life often interferes in our plans. I wanted to post this week, which was a wild card week – we could write whatever kind of grace letter we wanted to. I also plan to post next week, a grace letter to my “now.”

This letter is very personal, but I’ve censored out names and specific details for the privacy of its recipient. I still wanted to share the basic content of it however. A grace letter to a friend of mine.

Dear Friend,

You have been on my heart lately. I think about and pray for you often and very much enjoy reading your updates.

I am writing because I care so much for your heart, your mind, and your soul. You are a beautiful woman, but you lack the most important thing. My heart breaks for you because you are placing all of your trust and hope in something that cannot and will not deliver. You are following an untruth. I know it feels true to you. I know you say with conviction that it is right. I know you seek to share what you think you have.

But what you have is devoid of true grace and without grace we have no hope.

Grace is so much more than some supernatural “help” for us. It is so much more than just some sort of assistance so that we can do the best we can. The truth is, the best we have still falls drastically short. The best we have is no more than our duty, filthy rags. Without grace, we are dead. Lost. In darkness. Blind. Enemies of God at best. We could never hope to make ourselves alive, find the Way, see the Light, open our eyes, or befriend a God we have offended.

This is why we need the gospel. The gospel is not about doing all we can do. The gospel starts with the Law, which shows us so incredibly clearly that we can’t do enough. Ever. We can’t even begin to do at all. Our very being is so fallen since Adam’s sin that our every thought, action, desire is steeped in selfish motives and idolatry. Even our “good” actions are filthy and wrong when compared with the purity, goodness, holiness, and righteousness of God. Even the people who seem most “good” to us deserve the death of a rebel and traitor. That’s what we are. We have committed high treason against heaven.

But the King himself left heaven and came to earth. God himself incarnated as a human being. He lived a perfect life. He upheld the entire Law, never sinning even a little bit. He was perfectly righteous.

He didn’t do this just to set an example. That would have been in vain. It would have been an example that we could never have followed. He did it because only a perfect sacrifice, only a lamb without blemish, could be offered on our behalf.

When Jesus died on the cross, it wasn’t just compassion that moved Him to suffer. And it wasn’t the suffering in and of itself that gave Him the ability to atone for our sin. It was His perfection that gave Him the right, the ability to cover our sin.

In the Old Testament, the shadow cast back of the Messiah to come, the priests lay their hands on the head of the sin sacrifice. The lamb without blemish took upon its head the sin of the people and received the death penalty for that sin. This is what Jesus did. He had no sin. He took our sin upon Him. And He received the death penalty for our sin.

But He didn’t stop there. Not only did He remove all of our sin from us and take the full punishment for that sin, He gave us all of His perfection and righteousness, and all the privileges that go with it. We don’t do a thing to earn this. It is purely a gift.

This is grace. We can’t add to it. There’s nothing left to add. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He truly meant finished. And when He rose from the dead, our salvation was sealed. He put to death our death and gave us life.

I want so badly for you to know this grace. This is a grace that changes your whole life. It is a grace that sets you free from yourself. It is a grace that lifts all burdens – including the burden of trying to remain as obedient as you can. Grace is not divine assistance; it is divine pardon. Complete and total acquittal. The removal of all guilt and the gift of all righteousness.

I pray God opens your eyes so that you can see this. I pray He opens your ears to hear and understand this. I beg Him for your soul. Know that I will continue to love you and out of that love continue to share this grace with you. I crave the day you come alive to it.

In love and grace, your friend,

Meg

 

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